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Asian governments must expand Covid-19 testing

Lack of testing and number fudging are providing a false view of Covid-19 threat

Asian governments must expand Covid-19 testing

Women wearing face masks walk in a public area in Banda Aceh on March 2 after Indonesia reported its first confirmed cases of coronavirus. (Photo: Chaideer Mahyuddin/AFP)

For weeks now, it has seemed to observers that both infections and deaths in South and Southeast Asia attributed to the coronavirus look very low.

Much of this is due to low testing in developing countries which have poor to almost non-existent healthcare infrastructure, certainly none in any way ready to deal with even a mid-sized Covid-19 outbreak.

Now the first chunks of hard data — about Indonesia at this stage — are emerging where deaths/funerals for a certain period have been compared with the same period in previous years.

Nearly 4,400 burials occurred in Jakarta in March, 40 percent higher than in any month since at least January 2018, according to a Reuters review of statistics. The second-highest total during that period was March 2019 when nearly 3,100 people were buried, Reuters reported on April 4. At the time, the Indonesian government reported the capital had been the site of 971 cases and 90 deaths, about half of those in the country.

This sparked a further investigation by the media group where it looked at data from 16 of the country’s 34 provinces which showed that more than 2,200 people had died from Covid-19 rather than the official number of 765.

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